We had read that Monarch were having financial difficulties and the newspapers were reporting that it was the package holiday part in trouble. So I was surprised to receive the news at 08.10 Monday morning that Monarch has folded completely and that all flights were cancelled with immediate effect.
Disaster as the next day we had 12 customers flying out with Monarch to join us for a trip to Ronda. I checked other flights from Manchester to Malaga and surprise surprise they were all full. Then on to the nearest airports Granada, Seville and Gibraltar and then vice versa in England with Liverpool, Leeds and Nottingham. As we moved further afield we found a flight from Manchester to Madrid leaving at 06.30 that Tuesday morning. Madrid is 300 miles from Antequera but there is a fast train (AVE) which would take 2 hours 20 minutes.they would only be 3 hours behind schedule. I started to get excited which was a mistake. I checked Skyscanner website and there were no flights for the return journey on the Friday apart from an early morning slot from Madrid that we would not be able to get there in time. However the following day it showed an afternoon flight to Manchester. Also there a reasonable timed train leaving at 11.23 giving plenty of time for our connection. Now I was really excited and contacted our customers to say it was viable and it would cost around £200 more and include an extra night!
They had been resigned to losing their holiday and money and were a little hesitant to think the trip could still take place. They showed great adaptability, positivity and willingness to accept the changes.
Rushing now to book the flights and trains, I found the websites very slow to book and would often crash as thousands tried to access them. Once it raid a flight was a flight was full but on checking again the flights to Madrid were available and booked. I heaved a sigh of relief and thought my worries were over.,I Was not able to book the train but it was possible to buy tickets on the day . Now I Turned my attention to the return journey. The Skyscanner website showed there was an afternoon 16.00 hours flight with Iberia for £27 to be booked through Budgetair or Kiwi.com. When I came to the final stage to pay, the flight had increased to £170 each. I tried again and yes it showed £27 but at the final stage it was £170 again. There were no other flights to Manchester available. Fortunately there was to Liverpool and then arranged for a minibus to take them home.
The final stage was to book a hotel in Antequera. The first 3 were fully booked as its the wedding season and we reluctantly found a hotel that was mainly used by tour operators for coach trips but they only has 5 rooms. The other 3 people had to stay with us
On meeting our travellers at Santa Ana train station, they had split into 2 groups. One catching an earlier train arriving 90 minutes earlier, which the computer in the booking office said was full,but on paying a supplement were allowed to board to find a half full train! The rest of the group arrive 90 minutes later. They all had long delays at the booking office. Some tried to book
for the return trip on Saturday for the 11.23 but were told it did not exist. It was a ghost train. The only option was an earlier train at 09.26 which then gave them almost 3 hours for a quick glance at Madrid.
Back to the trip and we arrived at Ronda stayed in the centre at Hotel San Gabriel and dined al fresco by the Town Hall. The next day we were in the countryside and tasting Chinchilla wines on their patio , overlooking their fabulous countryside . Gema, owner, winemaker and host, Produced a great 10 course dinner with 4 wines to refresh the palate. We returned to our hotel and the more energetic explored Ronda before heading off for the evening meal or should I say meals. – All 21 of them. Admittedly any were only small mouthfuls but they were packed with flavour and many interesting and contrasting ? Flavours. Definitely an experience of a lifetime. There were some unusual wines also packed with flavour to withstand these bold dishes. They ranged from dry sherries to an unusual wine made from the Palomino grape and a grape that has dismissed as bland was a xarello that was overflowing with flavour. 21 courses may haVe been too much but it’s a memory we will never forget. We are told that it will have a Michelin star in the New Year!
We checked out of the hotel to visit the smaller more compact winery Schatz. This winery is organic and biodynamic and only produced 15,000 bottles.
We then headed to our next hotel outside Ronda but set in the countryside . Hotel Molino del Arco was a delight. Extremely comfortable bedrooms surrounded by gardens and a pool. A good evening meal then Followed by relaxing in the lounge with a well stocked honesty bar.
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EE Here follows a brief tour report of the Bilbao to Barcelona guided tour.
We arrived in Bilbao late at night and went straight to our hotel in Loiu. They had prepared a simple but plentiful dinner.
A few of our group appreciated that the late night receptionist also ran the bar.
Loiu was only 10 minutes from Bilbao airport and was very convenient for the motorways.
The staff were so helpful and attentive. They even left a bottle of wine for us to enjoy.
The church was well worth a look.
We then had a 90 minute drive to Valenciso winery in Ollauri, Rioja.
We were met by the owner Enrique who spent
much time with us explaining the various aspects of Rioja and its areas, alongside the history of the region. He gave us full details as to how his region was excellent for growing vines to make high quality wine.
He gave us a full and lengthy tour of the winery and decribed in detail many of the factors of winemaking. it varied from the latest in plastic tags that give off nematodes scent thus deterring any visiting insects. These tags would then be tied to every 5th vine.Then he
talked about styles of wood for his barrels and that he preferred French wood as the grain was much tighter , thus imparting less vanilla influence to the wine.
This was followed by a tasting of his wines. The red we expected to be very good but we were stunned by the quality of the white. Many thought this was arevelation and actually overshadowed the red.
Then we left for 2 hour drive to an intriguing town Tarazona.
The cathedral. converted bull ring and old town are well worth exploring. It is bases at the foot of the Moncayo mountains and crossroads for Aragon, Navarra, Castile Y leon and la Rioja.
It is also very handy for the wineries in southern Navarra and the newish area Borja.
Borja named after Lucretia` family before she left for popes and entertaining diners
The wines from Borja used to be absorbed by its neighbours Rioja and Navarr but has now earnt its own appelation or D.O. The leading winery is Borsao and they have won so many awards it is quite remarkable for their size. Robert Parker declared. Possibly the single greatest dry red in the world, this is unbelievable value. Roberts parker Wine Advocate Issue 204 on the Borsao Seleccion Tinto.
Their flagship wine is Tres Picos which makes most Chateauneuf du papes look rather pale
We had a tour of the winery even though they were extremely busy with the new vintage.
The hectic pace of tractor after tractor disgorging their freshly picked grapes was fascinating.
We left Borsao thoroughly enthused to travel to Zaragoza, where we had discovered a new restaurant Boliche.
Although modern this was a fantastic lunch and the best meal of the trip. We managed to match the wines with each course. Everything went well almost too well.
Fortunatel apart from the drivers we now had the chance to relax as we entered the centre of Zaragoza to stay the evening.
it is a very busy city with much to see but we were content to enter the old area and sample some tapas. It was that mild that we were able
to sit outside.
We enjoyed sauntering back to the hotel for agood noghts sleep as we had an early start at 9.00am the next day.
There had been magnificent scnery all the way from Bilbao to Zaragoza but the part leaving Zaragoza was a wilderness. No agriculture, industry or houses. Not even an animal.
As we neared Lleida after 90 minutes we discoverd civilisation, buildings, crops, animaly and houses.. We headed for a winery Castell del Remei in the wine region of Costers del Segre.
This was used as a hospital in the civil war and some troops were stationed there as well. Somehow they managed to blow up part of their barracks. It is possible that they were partaking of the wine?
This winery has French roots and there are many french wine varieties here, Cabernet, merlot, Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay.
They make each wine with one grape dominating.
The tasting was held in a hall that they normally use for exhibitions. There was certainly plenty of room to move around. The Chardonnay based Oda blanc was excellent but the 1780 was brilliant.This was mainly cabernet sauvignon supports by 3 others grapes and aged in oak barriques for 10 months.
After the tasting we moved on to the building round the corner to find a busy restaurant. It is
a tradition for the people of lleida to come out for the day,buy some wine and have lunch.
There was a set menu with a worded starters suggesting an assortment of starters, when it was huge plated of lovely delectable items which were washed down with copious amounts of wine.
Reluctantly we had to leave for just south of barcelona a small town called Castedelfells. This is also the new home of Luis Suarez.
We arrived at the hotel to find another warm afternoon and as the hotel was situated on the beach . 2 of our party
went for a swim and reported the sea to be warm.
We then went to a local modern bar for a little to eat. Then the next morning there was asimple journey of 20 miutes to the airport